View Full Version : Impact of cutaway design on acoustic ukulele?

05-10-2015, 09:05 AM
I'm still looking for my ideal yet affordable ukulele. There is an islander that looks nice, but it is a cutaway. My classical instructor is somewhat picky about these things, and has warned me away from the cutaway. Just curious what anyone else thinks?

05-10-2015, 09:23 AM
I think it depends on the uke. Not all cutaways are done the same way.

Some people think cut aways reduce the sound board, and ruins the tone. Others say the corners of the upper bout doesn't vibrate much anyway. Others say that you ruin the tone because you lose air volume in the body. But then others will counter that there's no standard volume in a body, or that you can just make the rest of the body bigger to compensate. Then there's the newer style that's not "cut away" so much as ground away, like the comfort stuff kanilea/islander has, the way oscar scmidt does the ouX00 series where upper bout is still there.

So... on the one hand.. you can argue theories.. On the otherhand... there are alot of straight up great sounding cut away ukes. Kalei Gamiao only plays cut aways I think, and you won't find a moore bettah that sounds bad.

People get so caught up on thinking exercises with ukes.. but you don't think a uke, you play it. If you find a cutaway that you like... you're done answering your own question.

05-10-2015, 09:53 AM
All good points. I suppose the problem is, I can't play before I buy. So it is all a thinking exercise. I can listen to the instruments being played but that is not the same thing as playing myself.

Patrick Madsen
05-10-2015, 12:22 PM
For me, it depends if a person is inclined to play up the fretboard. I do so I like a cutaway but rarely go up that high where's it's always needed. If you like the look and figure someday you'll venture up the fretboard; go for it. This, more than likely, won't be your last one anyway. It's all about the setup. I like a thin, fast neck with low action and a slight radius to the fretboard; cutaway or traditional shape comes secondary. As a beginner, I'd be more inclined to go traditional just to be less conspicuous lol.

Is your classical instructor for uke or guitar? If a guitar I can, see his reasoning. I don't recall ever seeing a classical guitar as a cutaway. All my ukes so far are traditional with one jazz archtop coming that will be a CA.

05-10-2015, 01:19 PM
If you can't play before you buy, I would call HMS and ask them about some of their cutaways and tone. I'd also call Uke Republic and do the same. Those instruments are out there. I remember the old Bushman Jenny ukuleles that were cutaways - sounded pretty nice.

05-10-2015, 01:24 PM
My instructor is a classical guitarist, so there is that. as an aside, I am currently using an Ohana tk35. It is a frustrating instrument to say the least. It sounds great strummed, but with fingerpicking it is easy to pick out notes that are just dull/do not ring. Looking forward to when I start in on Campanella and can use my other uke!

05-10-2015, 01:27 PM
You need to find an instrument that you love. And I think your instructor should help guide you, but your instructor isn't the main person to be pleased with your choice. It should be about you. I say this as a private lesson teacher who has helped many students upgrade and change instruments over the years.

05-10-2015, 01:35 PM
A cut away on a classical guitar is a no-no. On a uke, not so much. A uke can sound good with a cut away, get what works for you.

05-10-2015, 02:06 PM
Is your classical instructor for uke or guitar? If a guitar I can, see his reasoning. I don't recall ever seeing a classical guitar as a cutaway.
There are some out there, but they are usually lower end acoustic/electric classicals.

But I don't recall any prominent classical guitarists playing a cutaway (Esteban does not count in this category!). CGs typically have 19 frets, and I seem to recall something about John Williams having to glue a matchstick to create a 20th fret to play a particular Barrios piece. So you can go that high without even needing a cutaway if you are a good player.

05-10-2015, 02:35 PM
I play both. There is no difference to my ear. In fact my friend has the same pono I have but in a cutaway and they both have southcoast strings and I can't tell them apart. Maybe the cutaway sounds a tiny bit better but I can't say for sure.

05-10-2015, 03:14 PM
For most of us, I don't think it really noticeably affects the sound.

I get it why purists would 'avoid' it on guitar. With a guitar, you want the body to be as large as possible because the bass strings will sound better. A cutaway would be a small theoretical compromise to depth of tone (although to be honest, I've got cutaway acoustic and classical guitars and it has never been a problem. I like the extra access to high frets it gives me).

On an ukulele, I think it's nearly entirely irrelevant. The effect on the tone (if any) would be either insignificant or irrelevant.
On an ukulele, larger body cavity is not a goal as it is for guitar. It is a higher pitched instrument, and some people even get smaller sized bodies, such as Soprano, intentionally.

Whether the cutaway design itself affects how the soundwaves reflect? Have played cutaway and non-cutaway ukuleles and have not been able to generalise that non-cutaways are superior to cutaways.

Long story short, whether it has a cutaway or not is usually not the pivotal factor that your ukulele decision should revolve around.
If you find a good quality ukulele by a reputable maker that you like - it can be either cutaway or non cutaway depending on your preferences.

Personally I prefer cutaways on my instruments, but they are not always available in the store I visit or the model I want it in. If I had it my way, all my instruments would have cutaway.

05-10-2015, 03:52 PM
From a playability stand point... cut away is quite a bit easier high up.
A uke has a fairly short range because it's only got 4 strings in low G, or 3 in re-entrant, since 4 is really between 1 and 2.
The more you play the more you'll find yourself trying to eek out a little more range, and 14th-15th are not entirely uncommon.

Size is also a thing. Concert cut away is alot easier to play barres up high because your index needs to be straight, but you have to reach over the top. Tenor is a bit more manageable because there's a little more room but I'd be lying if I said I never wished for easier access on tenor.

Here's the thing, cutaway.. probably wont hurt the sound. But it will definitely make reaching easier. Why make it harder for yourself?

The only argument I can make about not getting a cutaway.. is cost. Cutaways always cost more. And for that extra money, esp on the lower end, you can usually find a higher end uke in standard body at a similar cost to a lower end cutaway.

05-10-2015, 04:28 PM
The exception being the Gretsch I mentioned. It's cost is around $219 which is an amazing value in a great sounding cutaway imo. I didn't go with cutaways on my Pono's for the very reason you mentioned. I can own two instead of one without feeling like I spent more than my budget. I really don't play at that end of the uke so it's just a looks thing for me at this point. I think cutaways look pretty cool.

05-10-2015, 04:28 PM
Every single uke I have owned has been a cutaway, in fact, so are my guitars. I can't tell any difference with a cutaway. Some of my cutaways project and sustain well, some not as much. My best uke for projection and sustain is a cutaway Kala solid cedar top with acacia koa body, as good as any over $600 non-cutaway uke I've heard and it was only $370. I posted this image on my "couldn't sleep" thread but I think it fits here too.

http://www.kohanmike.com/uploads/1 Uke mix.jpg

05-10-2015, 04:30 PM
Nice Gretsch. :drool:;)

Of all those beautiful acoustic ukes which is your no. 1 in sound and playability? If you have a no.1 that is. Just curious as I haven't been around most of those ukes in your stellar collection and I might like to try one.

05-10-2015, 04:37 PM
It's that Kala I mentioned. I'm down to four I play now when I'm not playing u-bass, see my signature (a 5th uke is for sale).

05-10-2015, 04:47 PM
One respected luthier's opinion.

I agree with Gordon. And I always want a cutaway if it's available.

Of note, Gordon does not put cutaways on smaller MMs for reason he explained. That said, some luthiers do cutaways on concerts, and yes, even sopranos. I owned an Asturias (custom Japanese from island of Kyoto) soprano body uke with a gorgeous Florentine cutaway; there was no effect on tone or volume. It was built light as a bird.

Cutaways have a secondary benefit: they eliminate the soundboard at the location most prone to fingernail scratches and soundboard strum "rash".


mm stan
05-10-2015, 05:11 PM
You are a new player, I am sure you wont have use for the cutaway design for years to come...personally I steer away from cutaways, but that is my personal taste
a soprano would be the best size to start off with in my opinion...

05-10-2015, 09:07 PM
I dont't think that a well designed cutaway will take away much of the sound. In fact, some argue that a cutaway might even improve tonal qualities of an instrument because of the assymetric build.

05-10-2015, 10:22 PM
I can't say whether a cutaway affects the sound on a uke, but I prefer them without it. I don't have the need for them, since I don't play past the 14th fret anyway. I have seen comparisons on the guitar where I was able to hear a slight difference, now whether that was real or imagined, who know's?

It does seem to me, that if you are taking away a good size piece from the soundboard that there would be some trade off. Especially on a uke, since they are such small instruments already.

05-11-2015, 01:41 AM
It's that Kala I mentioned. I'm down to four I play now when I'm not playing u-bass, see my signature (a 5th uke is for sale).

That's the one uke I can't justify owning.:( I have two Pono cedar tops that are awesome. I've had my eye on that particular kala as I've heard lots of great things about that one. I'd love to play it and compare it to my Pono's.

05-12-2015, 06:24 AM
I'm going to have to disagree here. For Baritone ukes I think you should avoid cutaways. The resonant frequency of most baritones is about D#, which is not low enough to have a rich low D. A cutaway will only tend to lower that resonant frequency a bit. I think there is always the possibility that someone might want to play a bari with a low-D, therefore I think cutaways are a bad idea for a bari.